Review: Escape Plan (Vita)
Hey, you got some Tim Burton on my Limbo!
Escape Plan was certainly a surprise announcement for the Vita at Gamescom 2011, and is also the first major project from Fun Bits Interactive. Providing a world full of stark contrasts where Lil and Laarg face hazards at every turn, it’s up to you to guide them through the treacherous black and white industrial environments to make their escape from the evil Bakuki!
The Playstation Network is known for some games which push the creative boundary; From Journey to Flower and even the upcoming Datura, Sony seems to attract some very unique games to their digital store.
Debuting via the PSN store, is this quirky puzzler worth your time?
It’s hard not to be intrigued by this title purely on the stylistic side, as few games take the bold step to present themselves in black and white. Limbo achieved this with great success in 2010, and proved that it’s not purely just a lack of colour that’s required to create an atmosphere.
Black and White does not have such a history with video games as it does with cinema. While film established itself in this format, games quickly moved into the world of colour, so don’t have quite the same pedigree in this style. It’s easy to look back at black and white film and appreciate their style, and how they contrast to colour pictures, however games (except for portables) didn’t have a huge stint in this phase, so the choice to forgo the full spectrum is a deliberate choice to elicit a particular feel to the game…..that, and Escape Plan would have probably been an 18 if it was colour, due in part to the rather gruesome violence that befolds our humourous characters.
Adding to the unique look of the game, the method of guiding Lil and Laarg is also very unconventional, forgoing any use of the physical buttons (except for camera movement), and instead utilising all the touch screen and six-axis technology that Sony packed into their newest handheld. You’ll need to tilt, touch, pinch, drag, swipe and more as you work through the 80+ stages on offer, avoiding electricty, spikes, pits and other death inducing devices to help them escape!
It’s important to know that you never really have direct control over Lil and Laarg, and are instead ”guiding’ them, whilst also keeping an eye on their well being as they are a little like Lemmings! The levels are short and sweet for the most part, so frustration isn’t often an issue, and is instead a learning experience for next time. As with many of the Vita’s downloadable games, leaderboards are a large focus, often dragging you back into the fray against your friends times and gesture counts.
Gameplay elements are introduced slowly, meaning that you’ll never feel out of your depth, though use of your noggin will be required for a number of the later stages which can get quite hectic once all the mechanics are introduced. Sounds pretty rosy doesn’t it (…well, in greyscale that is) and for the most part it’s really a lot of fun, although pretty challenging at times. The classical music which plays throughout is oddly therapeutic, and contrasts nicely with the themes of the game.
The main issue that you’ll run into here…is yourself! Because of the way Escape Plan controls, you always have to be aware of how you are holding the device, keeping in mind not to hit the rear touch pad accidentally. The main reason for this is due to the scoring system, which since being based on gestures and time, it’s important that you only do as much as is needed. It works best to go for the high score the second time round, and thankfully this is as simple as it could be thanks to the replay level feature seamlessly letting you hop around the various environments. Getting the hang of the rear touch pad is important, and by dragging your finger around on the back, you can get a better sense of where it is, before then tapping to interact with the environment. Sometimes it’s worth exploring a little, as even though the levels are generally confined to smaller spaces, they are often filled with ojects that can be poked (from both ways) as well as collectable stickers to be found.
While you are given control over both characters, many of the levels focus on an individual. Lil is capable of using switches, coffee machines and air canisters, allowing much more nimble movement, while Laarg (expectadly) is rather large, meaning movement is much slower, though allows for bashing through walls and butt stomping in certain areas. Switching between them is straight forward, and using the icons at the top of the screen, you can choose who you wish to guide. Even though this option is present, Escape Plan will often guess which character you wish to move by where you press/swipe on the screen. The camera behaves well for the most part, though there were a couple of occasions where I had planned to interact with the environment, but the camera got dragged along with the character.
Enemies don’t just come in the form of environmental hazards however (though these will be the highest cause of death), as you’ll soon encounter minions that are out to get you by means of blow pipes. Thankfully they are easily distracted, often leading them to their inevitable and rather violent deaths. Other ‘animals’ such as ‘sheep’ can often be of use to you also, since they can sit on buttons or get in the way of the enemy projectiles.
You certainly can’t fault Fun Bits Interactive for their lack of innovation when it comes to the controls. You’ll be tilting using the six axis to guide an inflated Lil, poking using the rear touch pad to extend bridges and platforms, using four fingers on the front touch to block vents of poisonous gas and even pinching on both sides on a number of occasions.
This is by far the most unique game available for the Vita, and it works perfectly as a digital only release, especially with its rather nice price point (£9.99). There’s enough levels to keep you going for a long time, plus the leaderboards, challenges, and collectables certainly will bring you back for more. If there was one thing I wish they’d have added, it would be a ‘playbox’ mode. Puddle featured a mechanic like this, meaning that you could play around with the various tools and obecjts in the game, and Escape Plan really would have benefitted from this style of sandbox mode. As it stands however, it’s certainly a fantastic game, and even though requires some very nimble hands and a lot of patience, it’s well worth your time.